Voice search will finally force marketers to use plain English

 
Chris Lee
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Photo by Matthew Kane on Unsplash (Source: Unsplash.com)

Half (50%) of all searches will involve voice by 2020, according to ComScore, thanks to the rise of voice assistants. At last, organisations will need to ditch marketing jargon and speak the language of their audience if they want to be found online, or they will simply lose their business.

Around a decade ago, I wrote a piece for PR Week arguing that organisations – especially in the technology sector – needed to start using plain English if they wanted to connect with their audiences. In 2016, I revisited the topic for a post on corporate copywriting. Now, changes in the way people search for information and the engines that help them should force offending brands to adopt natural language – or risk their own competitiveness.

According to data from Mindshare, 600 million people use voice-activated assistants at least once a week on their smartphone or voice assistant, such as Amazon Echo or Google Home. This means that brands should be creating content and structuring websites in a way that answer the common questions that people ask, as voice search is only going to increase over time.

I have attended two search industry conferences in the last month – BrightonSEO and Searchmetrics Summit – and a key topic at each was the evolution of voice search. Here are the thoughts of some experts who were there.

Adapt or die

Marcus Tober is Chief Technology Officer and founder of search marketing software developer, Searchmetrics. Tober affirms that the more business activity happens online, the more companies must adapt to how their customers think and search.

“If companies understand more and more that because of the power of Google they have to understand what people are searching for, they will adopt natural language,” he tells me. “They will go out of business if not.”

This issue is not limited to any specific sector either, Tober says.

“Every industry invents its own terminology. They still do it because the it’s the way they’ve always done it,” he adds. “Voice search is interesting and will have a significant impact on how content is structured.”

Stop, look and listen

Richard Keenan-Heard is Head of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) for The Trainline. He told delegates at Searchmetrics Summit that 77% of the TheTrainline.com’s traffic comes from mobile devices, both on its app and website.

In November 2017, The Trainline launched a Google Assistant voice app to meet this demand.

Keenan-Heard described how the team at The Trainline seek to understand the entire user journey from where they start their search, where they go next and why through to the type of questions they ask. Often, visitors are looking for inspirational content, and in the travel sector that means stunning, relevant videos and images.

“As a global business, we need to talk our customers’ language,” Keenan-Heard said, citing how The Trainline needs to consider different nuances and turns of phrase used within the English language, such as “train station” in the US and “railway station” in the UK.

Preparing your business for voice search

Kevin Gibbons runs the SEO and content marketing agency, Blueglass. He believes that because voice search is so new, it’s very hard to get real data on trends.

“The advice we give our clients is to put themselves in their customers’ shoes,” he told me. “What questions would they ask, which challenges do they have, what information do they want to know? If you can answer this concisely and in an authoritative way, that’s where you can start winning by being the best result.”

To take it a step further, Gibbons highly recommends brands experiment with developing their own voice app and skills.

“Being early is hugely important, so think about ways you can engage with your customers to gain an early advantage,” he concludes.

We live in semantic times. Those brands who fail to pivot their strategies to serve changing search trends should pay heed to a wonderful quote from the Dutch footballing legend Johan Cruyff: “If I had wanted you to understand, I would have explained it better.”

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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